19 October 2011

Stand Firm in the Lord's Calling

The following is excerpted from the spiritual classic, “The Ladder of Perfection” by the fourteenth century English mystic Walter Hilton. After studying at the University of Cambridge, Walter Hilton later became a hermit and eventually joined the Augustinians at Thurgarton Priory and there lived out the rest of his years. This particular work of his is addressed to a Carthusian recluse and teaches the soul how to advance in perfection by the removal of sin and earthly thoughts and occupations. It also defines the differences in the lives of ascetics, mystics, contemplatives and actives. It is considered one of the great treatises on contemplation. Walter Hilton was in close touch with the Carthusians and has been mistaken as a Carthusian, though he was not.

I pray that in the calling to which our Lord has called you for His service, that you are contented, stand firm in it, travailing busily with all the powers of your soul; and by the grace of Jesus Christ, to fulfill in true righteousness the state which you have taken in exterior likeness and appearance; and as you have forsaken the world like a dead man, and turned to our Lord bodily in the sight of men, so let your heart be as if dead to all earthly loves and fears, and turned wholly to our Lord Jesus Christ. For you must know that a turning of the body to God, not followed by the heart, is but a figure and likeness of virtues, and not the truth in itself.

I do not say that on the first day you can be turned to Him in your soul through the full mastery of virtue as easily as you can be enclosed with your body in your cell, but you should know that the cause of your bodily enclosure is that you may the better come to spiritual enclosure; and as your body is enclosed from bodily association with men, just so should your heart be enclosed from the fleshly loves and fears of all earthly things.

The contemplative life consists in perfect love and charity, felt inwardly through spiritual virtues, and in a true knowledge and sight of God in spiritual things. This life belongs especially to them who for the love of God forsake all worldly riches, honors, worships and outward businesses, and give themselves entirely, body and soul, to the service of God through spiritual occupation, according to their strength and ability.

It is your duty to be busy night and day in labor of body and spirit, to attain as near as you can to that life by such means as you think best for you. In your prayer you must not aim your heart at a material thing, but your effort must be to draw your thoughts inward from any attention to such things, so that your desire might be as it were bare and naked from all that is earthly, always rising upward into God. You cannot see Him in the body, or imagine Him in a bodily likeness, but you can feel His goodness and His grace when your desire is eased and helped, and as it were strengthened and set free from all carnal thoughts and affections; when it is greatly lifted up by a spiritual power into spiritual savor and delight in God, held still in this for much of your prayer time, so that you have no great thought of any earthly thing, or else the thought harms you only a little. If you pray like this, then you know how to pray well.

For prayer is nothing but a desire of the heart rising into God by its withdrawal of all earthly thoughts; and so it is compared to a fire, which of its own nature leaves the lowness of the earth and always goes up into the air. Just so, when desire in prayer has been touched and set alight by the spiritual fire which is God, it keeps rising naturally to Him from Whom it came.

14 October 2011

A Deeper Fruition of what We Seem to have Lost

Today is the feast of Saint Teresa of Avila. From the Divine Office, at Matins, the Carthusians listened to this great Saint in her own words. Here’s what the monks heard.

In the beginning, when I attained to some degree of supernatural prayer -- I speak of the prayer of quiet -- I laboured to remove from myself every thought of bodily objects; but I did not dare to lift up my soul, for that I saw would be presumption in me, who was always so wicked. I thought, however, that I had a sense of the presence of God: this was true, and I contrived to be in a state of recollection before Him. This method of prayer is full of sweetness, if God helps us in it, and the joy of it is great. And so, because I was conscious of the profit and delight which this way furnished me, no one could have brought me back to the contemplation of the Humanity of Christ; for that seemed to me to be a real hindrance to prayer. O Lord of my soul, and my Good! Jesus Christ crucified! I never think of this opinion, which I then held, without pain; I believe it was an act of high treason, though done in ignorance.

The first consideration is this: there is a little absence of humility -- so secret and so hidden, that we do not observe it. Who is there so proud and wretched as I, that, even after labouring all his life in penances and prayers and persecutions, can possibly imagine himself not to be exceedingly rich, most abundantly rewarded, when our Lord permits him to stand with Saint John at the foot of the Cross? I know not into whose head it could have entered to be not satisfied with this, unless it be mine, which has gone wrong in every way where it should have gone right onwards. Then, if our constitution -- or perhaps sickness -- will not permit us always to think of His Passion, because it is so painful, who is to hinder us from thinking of Him risen from the grave, seeing that we have Him so near us in the Blessed Sacrament, where He is glorified?

No trial befalls me that is not easy to bear, when I think of You standing before those who judged You. With so good a Friend and Captain ever present, Himself the first to suffer, everything can be borne. He helps, He strengthens, He never fails, He is the true Friend. I see clearly, and since then have always seen, that if we are to please God, and if He is to give us His great graces, everything must pass through the Hands of His most Sacred Humanity, in Whom His Majesty said that He is well pleased. I know this by repeated experience: our Lord has told it me. I have seen clearly that this is the door by which we are to enter, if we would have His supreme Majesty reveal to us His great secrets. So, then, I would have you seek no other way, even if you have arrived at the highest contemplation. This way is safe.

Our Lord is He by Whom all good things come to us; He will teach you. Consider His life; that is the best example. What more could we want than so good a Friend at our side, Who will not forsake us when we are in trouble and distress, as they do who belong to this world! Blessed is he who truly loves Him, and who always has Him near him! Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul, who seems as if Jesus was never absent from his lips, as if he had Him deep down in his heart. After I had heard this of some great Saints given to contemplation, I considered the matter carefully; and I see that they walked in no other way. Saint Francis with the stigmata proves it, Saint Antony of Padua with the Infant Jesus; Saint Bernard rejoiced in the Humanity of Christ; so did Saint Catherine of Siena, and many others, who knew better than I do. This withdrawing from bodily objects must no doubt be good, seeing that it is recommended by persons who are so spiritual; but, in my opinion, it ought to be done only when the soul has made very great progress; for until then it is clear that the Creator must be sought for through His creatures.

When God suspends all the powers of the soul – by some means of prayer -- it is clear that, whether we wish it or not, this presence of the most Sacred Humanity of Christ is withdrawn. Be it so, then, the loss is a blessed one, because it takes place in order that we may have a deeper fruition of what we seem to have lost; for at that moment the whole soul is occupied in loving Him Whom the understanding has toiled to know; and it loves what it has not comprehended, and rejoices in what it could not have rejoiced in so well, if it had not lost itself, in order, as I am saying, to gain itself the more. But that we should carefully and laboriously accustom ourselves not to strive with all our might to have always -- and please God it be always -- the most Sacred Humanity before our eyes -- this, I say, is what seems to me not to be right: it is making the soul, as they say, to walk in the air; for it has nothing to rest on, however full of God it may think itself to be. It is a great matter for us to have our Lord before us as Man while we are living and in the flesh.

We are not angels, for we have a body; to seek to make ourselves angels while we are on the earth, and so much on the earth as I was, is an act of folly. In general, our thoughts must have something to rest on, though the soul may go forth out of itself now and then, or it may be very often so full of God as to be in need of no created thing by the help of which it may recollect itself. But this is not so common a case; for when we have many things to do, when we are persecuted and in trouble, when we cannot have much rest, and when we have our seasons of dryness, Christ is our best Friend; for we regard Him as Man, and behold Him faint and in trouble, and He is our Companion; and when we shall have accustomed ourselves in this way, it is very easy to find Him near us, although there will be occasions from time to time when we can do neither the one nor the other. We must not show ourselves as labouring after spiritual consolations; come what may, to embrace the Cross is the great thing.

The Lord of all consolation was Himself forsaken: they left Him alone in His sorrows. Do not let us forsake Him; for His Hand will help us to rise more than any efforts we can make; and He will withdraw Himself when He sees it to be expedient for us, and when He pleases will also draw the soul forth out of itself. God is greatly pleased when He beholds a soul in its humility making His Son a Mediator between itself and Him, and yet loving Him so much as to confess its own unworthiness, even when He would raise it up to the highest contemplation, and saying with Saint Peter: ‘Go away from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man’ (Saint Luke 5:8). I know this by experience: it was thus that God directed my soul. Others may walk by another and a shorter road. What I have understood of the matter is this: that the whole foundation of prayer must be laid in humility, and that the more a soul humbles itself in prayer, the more God lifts it up.

I come, then, to this conclusion: whenever we think of Christ, we should remind ourselves of the love that made Him bestow so many graces upon us, and also how great that love is which our Lord God has shown us, in giving us such a pledge of the love He bears us; for love draws forth love. And though we are only at the very beginning, and exceedingly wicked, yet let us always labour to keep this in view, and stir ourselves up to love; for if once our Lord grants us this grace, of having this love imprinted in our hearts, everything will be easy, and we shall do great things in a very short time, and with very little labour. May His Majesty give us that love -- He knows the great need we have of it -- for the sake of that love which He bore us, and of His glorious Son, to Whom it cost so much to make it known to us! Amen.

13 October 2011

Their Faces are Uncovered and Radiant

Today, the Carthusians honour all those of their Order who are now heavenly intercessors, residents of Paradise – the Saints and the Blessed. At Matins, the monks had proclaimed to them a very familiar teaching of our Lord from the Gospel of Saint Matthew. This was followed by an excerpt from what is considered a spiritual masterpiece in Syrian spirituality titled: ‘Le Livre de la Perfection’ by the seventh-century writer and martyr, Sahdona. Here are both the Gospel from Saint Matthew and the excerpt from Sahdona’s masterpiece.

From the Gospel of Matthew, 6:5-6, 16-21
Since the disciples had gathered around Jesus on the mountain, He told them: ‘When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to pray standing in synagogues and at the street corners to be seen by men. Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward. But when you shall pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your Father Who sees in secret will repay you. And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast anoint your head, and wash your face; that you appear not to men to fast, but to your Father Who is in secret: and your Father Who sees in secret, will repay you. Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through, and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where your treasure is, there is your heart also’.

(My translation)
From ‘Le Livre de la Perfection’ by Sahdona
To all those who care about their salvation, Christ our hope and our God, has taught us in the Gospel to distance ourselves from the world, waiting for God alone, devoting ourselves to prayer and spiritual contemplation. By His words and His example He has shown that no place is more suitable for both prayer and being fixed on God than a place of solitude, away from traffic and favorable to recollection.

There, in fact, the body quiets itself, because the excitements of the external senses are extinguished while at the same time the soul is no longer agitated by internal impulses. As the worldly tumult subsides, it brightens the spirit; the mind becomes liberated from dark earthly concerns: in short, man emerges purified and freed from all physical and spiritual pollution. The discerning eye of his inner light shines and it is good to know himself, to improve and guide his behavior on the clear path of justice. Under these conditions, the man is rushed into the spiritual heights, he stands before the Lord and perceives something glorious, and feels extremely blessed by the Lord Who created him.

He dwells in God alone due to holy purity of life, and God constantly abides in him, waiting to envelop him with the great remembrance of His own manifestation, to burst from the body and impulses man’s thoughts, until the last day, entering into the clouds of heaven, where his covered face will be uncovered and radiant.

Blessed devotion! Your wonders have manifested themselves since the beginning with Adam, our ancestor, and have grown through all generations and achieved miracles for us. These marvelous effects shine in those wonderful beings who are men of truth, who have been able to contemplate its significance. They have taken flight far away from the world and its distractions in order to quiet themselves, body and soul, withdrawing to the desert; by these means they strive for total peace which is rendered to them, the incredible recollection, infused by the Lord supernaturally.

Our Lord, mighty, victorious and holy, source of all holiness, courage and victory, and Who has not disregarded the toil of fasting! Who among us carnal beings can ignore or dismiss You, weak and sinful as we are, continually stuck in the mud of passions?

No one would dare to say that the adverse passions of the flesh have ever been able to touch the Lord's Body, the Receptacle of perfection, the magnificent Temple of the Divine. Yet, although He did not have the slightest need, the Lord Jesus did not renounce the laborious practice of fasting; in order to better teach the great virtue and holiness that He confers on those who observe it.

Just as He was baptized to teach us in our turn to receive baptism and follow His example, thus He fasted to teach us to fast in His likeness. Every baptized person should feel compelled to fight against evil, as did our Lord, and so to be attached to the weapons of fasting even though we have received the fullness of the Spirit.

We fast according to the will of God, sincerely and wholeheartedly, without altering our fasting obligations to the criteria of Satan. This would occur if fasting hypocritically, being seen by others, in order to please men and receive the reward of vain praise from the people; we would thus be excluded from the divine reward, just as our Lord warned about the Pharisees, blinded, discouraging imitation: When you fast -- He said -- do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward.

Behold, rendered wholly perfect by fasting from all evil, hungry and thirsty for the spirit of felicity that comes from God, we will be able to escape the threat of misery and famine in the last days reserved for those who shall be satisfied on earth. We will merit instead the blessing of contentment that Christ Jesus has promised to the hungry in these terms: Blessed are those who hunger, they shall be satisfied.

12 October 2011


Dear readers of Secret Harbour,

If you would like to watch the video of the Holy Father celebrating Vespers with the Carthusian community of Serra San Bruno, go to: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/homilies/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20111009_vespri-serra-san-bruno_it.html and then click on the word "Video".

11 October 2011

Captus ab Uno

As many of you already know, this past Sunday Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Vespers with the Carthusian community of Serra San Bruno. Here is the Holy Father's homily:

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, Dear Carthusian Brothers, Brothers and Sisters,I thank the Lord who has brought me to this place of faith and prayer, the Charterhouse of Serra San Bruno. In renewing my grateful greeting to Archbishop Vincenzo Bertolone of Catanzaro-Squillace, I address this Carthusian Community, each one of its members, with deep affection, starting with the Prior, Fr Jacques Dupont, whom I warmly thank for his words, while I ask him to communicate my grateful thoughts and my blessing to the Minister General and to the Nuns of the Order.I am first of all eager to stress that this Visit comes in continuity with certain signs of strong communion between the Apostolic See and the Carthusian Order, which became apparent in the past century. In 1924, Pope Pius XI issued an Apostolic Constitution with which he approved the Statutes of the Order, revised in the light of the Code of Canon Law. In May 1984, Blessed John Paul ii addressed a special letter to the Minister General, on the occasion of the ninth centenary of the foundation by St Bruno of the first community at the Chartreuse [Charterhouse] near Grenoble. On 5 October that same year my beloved Predecessor came here and the memory of his passing between these walls is still vivid.Today I come to you in the wake of these events, past but ever timely, and I would like our meeting to highlight the deep bond that exists between Peter and Bruno, between pastoral service to the Church’s unity and the contemplative vocation in the Church. Ecclesial communion, in fact, demands an inner force, that force which Father Prior has just recalled, citing the expression “captus ab Uno”, ascribed to St Bruno: “grasped by the One”, by God, “Unus potens per omnia”, as we sang in the Vespers hymn. From the contemplative community the ministry of pastors draws a vital sap that comes from God.“Fugitiva relinquere et aeterna captare”: to abandon transient realities and seek to grasp the eternal. These words from the letter your Founder addressed to Rudolph, Provost of Rheims, contain the core of your spirituality (cf. Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 13): the strong desire to enter in union of life with God, abandoning everything else, everything that stands in the way of this communion, and letting oneself be grasped by the immense love of God to live this love alone.Dear brothers you have found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value (cf. Mt 13:44-46); you have responded radically to Jesus’ invitation: “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). Every monastery — male or female — is an oasis in which the deep well, from which to draw “living water” to quench our deepest thirst, is constantly being dug with prayer and meditation. However, the charterhouse is a special oasis in which silence and solitude are preserved with special care, in accordance with the form of life founded by St Bruno and which has remained unchanged down the centuries. “I live in a rather faraway hermitage... with some religious brothers”, is the concise sentence that your Founder wrote (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4). The Successor of Peter’s Visit to this historical Charterhouse is not only intended to strengthen those of you who live here but the entire Order in its mission which is more than ever timely and meaningful in today’s world.Technical progress, markedly in the area of transport and communications, has made human life more comfortable but also more keyed up, at times even frantic. Cities are almost always noisy, silence is rarely to be found in them because there is always a lingering background noise, in some areas even at night. In the recent decades, moreover, the development of the media has spread and extended a phenomenon that had already been outlined in the 1960s: virtuality that risks getting the upper hand over reality. Unbeknown to them, people are increasingly becoming immersed in a virtual dimension because of the audiovisual messages that accompany their life from morning to night.The youngest, who were already born into this condition, seem to want to fill every empty moment with music and images, as for fear of feeling this very emptiness. This is a trend that has always existed, especially among the young and in the more developed urban contexts but today it has reached a level such as to give rise to talk about anthropological mutation. Some people are no longer capable of remaining for long periods in silence and solitude.I chose to mention this socio-cultural condition because it highlights the specific charism of the Charterhouse as a precious gift for the Church and for the world, a gift that contains a deep message for our life and for the whole of humanity. I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, “expose” themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent “void”, which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most royal Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every created thing: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones.... God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.The monk, in leaving all, “takes a risk”, as it were: he exposes himself to solitude and silence in order to live on nothing but the essential, and precisely in living the essential he also finds a deep communion with his brethren, with every human being.Some might think that it would suffice to come here to take this “leap”. But it is not like this. This vocation, like every vocation, finds an answer in an ongoing process, in the searching of a whole life. Indeed it is not enough to withdraw to a place such as this in order to learn to be in God’s presence. Just as in marriage it is not enough to celebrate the Sacrament to become effectively one but it is necessary to let God’s grace act and to walk together through the daily routine of conjugal life, so becoming monks requires time, practice and patience, “in a divine and persevering vigilance”, as St Bruno said, they “await the return of their Lord so that they might be able to open the door for him as soon as he knocks” (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4); and the beauty of every vocation in the Church consists precisely in this: giving God time to act with his Spirit and to one’s own humanity to form itself, to grow in that special state of life according to the measure of the maturity of Christ.In Christ there is everything, fullness; we need time to make one of the dimensions of his mystery our own. We could say that this is a journey of transformation in which the mystery of Christi’s resurrection is brought about and made manifest in us, a mystery to which the word of God in the biblical Reading from the Letter to the Romans has recalled us this evening: the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and will give life even to our mortal bodies (cf. Rom 8:11) is the One who also brings about our configuration to Christ in accordance with each one’s vocation, a journey that unwinds from the baptismal font to death, a passing on to the Father’s house. In the world’s eyes it sometimes seems impossible to spend one’s whole life in a monastery but in fact a whole life barely suffices to enter into this union with God, into this essential and profound Reality which is Jesus Christ.I have come here for this reason, dear Brothers who make up the Carthusian Community of Serra San Bruno! To tell you that the Church needs you and that you need the Church. Your place is not on the fringes: no vocation in the People of God is on the fringes. We are one body, in which every member is important and has the same dignity, and is inseparable from the whole. You too, who live in voluntary isolation, are in the heart of the Church and make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through your veins.Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis [the cross is steady while the world is turning], your motto says. The Cross of Christ is the firm point in the midst of the world’s changes and upheavals. Life in a Charterhouse shares in the stability of the Cross which is that of God, of God’s faithful love. By remaining firmly united to Christ, like the branches to the Vine, may you too, dear Carthusian Brothers, be associated to his mystery of salvation, like the Virgin Mary who stabat (stood) beneath the Cross, united with her Son in the same sacrifice of love.Thus, like Mary and with her, you too are deeply inserted in the mystery of the Church, a sacrament of union of men with God and with each other. In this you are unusually close to my ministry. May the Most Holy Mother of the Church therefore watch over us and the holy Father Bruno always bless your community from Heaven. Amen.

07 October 2011

Oh Oui - Ave Maria - Toujours, Toujours

‘They will carry the Crucifix in their right hand and the Rosary in their left, and the holy names of Jesus and Mary on their heart’ ~ Saint Louis Marie de Montfort.

Human logic suggests that a Man put to death by crucifixion and a string of beads are improbable, and yes, impossible sources to keep humanity from eternal death.

It also seems unlikely by human reasoning, that the Battle of Lepanto on 7 October 1571 would be a victory for Christianity because the Christians sought the help of our Blessed Mother by praying on those beads.

Our Blessed Lady herself was told at the Annunciation that ‘no word shall be impossible with God’ (Saint Luke 1:37). The battle of Logic versus Faith that wages within each of us must always find Faith as the victor. Not that there’s anything wrong with logic, it is a gift from God given to His human creatures. But interiorly, logic can only walk to the mountain; but faith can climb the mountain.

The Virgin Mother of God didn’t need to comprehend everything that was told to her by the archangel Gabriel; after all, logic would say, how could a virgin be with child? But faith doesn’t simply walk to the mountain and see a dead end; faith climbs, albeit with much difficulty at times, but climbs nevertheless, in order to reach celestial heights, seeking God in order to say what Mary said: ‘Fiat’!

‘And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His Mouth He taught them’ (Saint Matthew 5:1-2). ‘And going up into a mountain, He called to Him those He desired Himself; and they came to Him’ (Saint Mark 3:13). God teaches from the mountain, God calls from the mountain.

‘And it came to pass in those days that He went out into a mountain to pray; and He passed the whole night in the prayer of God’ (Saint Luke 6:12). Jesus climbs a mountain to pray.

These verses teach us something about the life of prayer: it is a dialogue – God calls, go up the mountain where He offers the words of everlasting life to the human soul; afterwards, the soul can pray, whether that be through words or just resting in the warmth of His marvelous Light.

Our Lady is the quickest and surest path to our Saviour. She climbs the mountain with us. She knows where He is. In moments of weakness she takes our hand on that mountain and pulls us up past the more frightening crags. Saint John Berchmans said: ‘If I love Mary, I am certain of my salvation’. Saint Aloysius along those same lines said: ‘Servus Mariæ nunquam peribit’ – ‘The servant of Mary will never be lost’.

These prophetic words from Sacred Scripture the Church places on the lips of Mary: ‘I am the Mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the Way and of the Truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come over to me, all you that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb. My memory is unto everlasting generations. He that hearkens to me shall not be confounded: and they that work by me, shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting’ (Ecclesiasticus 24:24-28, 30-31).

Very powerful and faith building words!

On the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, 5 August 1935, our Blessed Mother told Saint Faustina: ‘Be courageous. Do not fear apparent obstacles, but fix your gaze upon the Passion of my Son, and in this way you will be victorious’ (Diary 449). This statement takes us back to the opening statement of this post from Saint Louis Marie de Montfort. In our left hand is the instrument in which we seek the help of our Mother and in our right hand is the means to help us keep our gaze fixed on the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The beads, the beads, the beads! They are a great means to make our hearts rejoice because as our fingers travel on them, fifty-three times we begin our prayer with the words: ‘Ave Maria’!

In the Carthusian tradition is the story of a lay-brother named Bruno Lhuillier. He had a great love for the Blessed Mother. ‘Ave Maria’ constantly flowed from his lips. Many of his brother Carthusians, whenever they heard Brother Bruno Lhuillier proclaim those two words in praise of our Lady, they would respond using the same words. One day, one of his brothers, sort of beat him to the punch and was the first to say ‘Ave Maria’. Brother Lhuillier found great joy in that and responded: ‘Oh yes – Ave Maria – always, always’ (Abbé Berseaux: Le Chartreuse de Bosserville).

06 October 2011


From the Museo della Certosa is the Italian publication titled, ‘I Colori del Silenzio’. And in that publication is a loving tribute to Holy Father Bruno. It is shared here at Secret Harbour, on this day where around the world the Carthusian Order celebrates the Solemnity of Saint Bruno.

There are lives, my God, which may be approached only with respect, holy grounds where your mystery shines. No one can contemplate them without being enlightened by you, no one can find them without being inflamed by Your Spirit.

6 October 1101, Sunday, at the Hermitage of Santa Maria della Torre in Calabria, Italy there were some monks, and in the midst of them a man laid down. Tears were in their eyes and choking cries in their voices. The guide of their souls, their father . . . had reached the time of his birth into eternity. This man is you, Bruno. In this instant, your whole life, more than seventy years, is in your heart, the final offering to the Father.

Behold your first years in Cologne, where you were born, your departure for Rheims in France, that great and celebrated school of theology, your scholarly enlightened intuitions, and your appointment as canon of that church. The face of Archbishop Gervais, his decision of promoting you, at the early age of twenty-eight, to master of the most celebrated school of this time; students from all over Europe flocked together to listen to you, as your fame continually increased; then came the archbishop’s death in July 1067.

Behold the newly elected Manasse, his greed, his rages, the first discords, the increasing disorder, the scandals, while the Church reforms herself thanks to the Holy Father, Gregory VII; your sufferings, and the firm decision to voice your displeasure of the papal Legate. In the final months of 1076 came the retaliations of Manasse, depriving you of all your charges and goods – leading to the way of exile, a long and painful fight which lasted four years. At last the decision of the Pope: to depose, to dismiss the bishop from his See, while all eyes looked upon you to be the successor. But . . . in the silence of your heart, suddenly, another Heart! Your exile was the first stage of a long interior pilgrimage.

Behold the call of Christ: to leave everything so as to follow Him, to resume the way of the first fathers of the desert; the astonishment of all, the admiration for you, the light of Rheims, who was already fifty-five years old; then Sèche-Fontaine, the first attempt at solitary life with two other monks, but soon they defected and you searched for a second hermitage.

Behold your new companions: Landuin, two men named Stephen, and Hugh; these four were clerics, and with them were Andrew and Guérin, the first lay brothers. Their faces are still now in your heart, your brothers so beloved. And all seven were united as the flames of the archangels before the Almighty. You asked Hugh, the holy Bishop of Grenoble, for a place to live, hidden in God. Hugh of Grenoble was a friend of your heart. He helped you immediately without reservation; he had a dream about seven stars that guided him into the desert of Chartreuse to glorify God.

On June 1084, nearing the feast of Saint John the Baptist, you arrived at the place foreseen in the dream, to begin a great adventure still unknown. Behold your monastery, lost in the mountains, the first years, the ascetic struggle, the peace of the Spirit. Such fire in your souls, such love in your hearts! You, Bruno, already possessed pure praise and cries of amazement: ‘O Bonitas! O Bonitas!’ (O the Goodness! O the Goodness!).

Six years of toils, six years of joy; God, God, God always, only God, together with your brothers! Then, unexpectedly, the trial . . . In the first months of 1090 a courier of the Pope arrived with this message: Urban II, a former student of yours, calls you to his service at his side. The sun sets, it is night. Leaving everything, abandoning all, again, undoubtedly forever, your solitude in God, that blessed solitude, your companions of life, your friends. But in your heart, the ‘yes’, which is your love for God and for the Church. But the tempest overwhelms your brothers, the bewilderment takes them, and they disperse. To be without you, the master, the star of the journey: How could they? This way is so difficult. Everything collapses. Everything! Your heart is on the cross. It is the hour of your passion. Has the beautiful adventure reached its end? ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by! Yet, not my will, but Yours be done’. The sky opens, a new day is born. Your brothers again gather in the desert guided by Landuin. Your soul is suffering less, Bruno, at the hour of departure.

Behold Rome, the holy city, the heart of Christianity! But Rome is threatened. Shortly after your arrival, the Emperor Enrico IV and his protected, the antipope Clement III, launched their troops towards it. Urban II and his court fled to the south, near the land of the Norman allies. And still another trial: the Holy Father offers you the archbishopric of Reggio Calabria. What were you to do, Bruno? This is such a difficult time for the Church, as a brilliant future opens up for you – a counsellor for the Pope, a trustworthy man, admired by all. But in your soul still resounds the call, continuous, powerful, captivating, even stronger in the splendour of this court: Only God! Only God! To be His, completely His, only His, together with other brothers! Only God! Your heart, a cry of love for Him! Father, will You forget Your son? It is You Who has sown the cry in him . . . Bruno, the Lord responds, Urban II blesses your vocation: yes, you may resume your solitary life. ‘O Bonitas! O Bonitas! My life and my all, my beloved forever’. (Autumn of 1090).

Your heart would like to return to Chartreuse, to find your brothers. But the Pope asks you to stay in these lands and you accept his words as those of Christ. But where to dwell? A friend of the Holy Father, and soon to be your friend, Count Ruggero, offers you a vast desert territory. Behold your hermitage, Santa Maria della Torre, in the woods of the Serre, and the arrival of new companions, and later others, and yet more, up to thirty-three new sons. Nearby the hermitage stands the monastery of Saint Stephen where the lay brothers lead more a life in community; Landuin guides them, your faithful friend.

Eleven more years, eleven years of hard work and asceticism, eleven years of light and joy in praise, here, in this rich land of monks and hermits, whose history is blessed with their presence. And so, that your joy may be complete, Bruno, one day found the happiness of a visit: Landuin, who brings with him the love of your first sons, and their fidelity. ‘O Bonitas! O Bonitas’! -- so as to accept this friend of yours in this land that fills your heart, with an embrace and a gaze.

The autumn of life nears the end and your eyes rise towards eternity. Two years have passed since Urban II left this world; a year later, on his return journey, Landuin dies professing the faith in the prisons of the antipope; three months before that, in June, Ruggero died. Bruno, heaven calls you. Now . . .

The breath becomes briefer, perspiration bathes you, with your last brothers, you proclaim your faith, a hymn to the Trinity. The instant is near, time opens. Bruno, look at this grand light, so immense: ‘My Lord and my God’.

‘It is Me My friend, come! Enter into My Heart. Come! Come’.

‘O Bonitas! O Bonitas’!
Bruno, stay with us!

‘I will remain in your hearts’.

Everything stood still. Silence freezes us in its density. Fire has consumed the last twigs, the flame has vanished. Bruno . . . your face is so beautiful, illuminated by peace; and your eyes, open towards heaven, are overflowing with an infinite tenderness. A hand closes them in the ultimate sleep. Your life is hidden in Him, for all eternity. Fullness of joy! Ocean of love!

But your light still shines in our hearts and in your two letters, for your friend Raoul and your brothers of Chartreuse, who will bear witness forever to your mystery. You are so present in them, your profound humanity, finesse, your sweetness and goodness, your harmony throughout, your wisdom, all tenderness and humility, spiritual joy, simplicity -- Bruno, all-burning with your love of God, and the God-Love in you.

Yes, you are alive forever. And, like a planted seed, from you will rise a tree where different birds will make their nests. Are you not seeing it in the Eyes of God?

A life-flame of prayer still consumes itself roundabout you, Bruno; it burns in this place from where now you fly towards heaven, so as to make descend from there a great light of melody and love. Together with the first, behold all your sons and daughters, throughout the centuries, until this day and even further, all of us who, invisibly are around you on this 6 October, in this instant of your great birth, Bruno . . .

01 October 2011

What fire! What sweetness!

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote and spoke words which were nothing short of spectacular expressions of love. If we visually learned how to suffer by watching the life and papacy of John Paul II, then certainly those lessons on how to suffer can also be read in the words of the Little Flower. She was a Victim Soul of Divine Love. Her intimacy with Christ was mystical, as evidenced in her words, and the love she received as well as the love she returned was beyond human capacity. She had no personal desires – that is to say, she only wanted what God wanted. She completely gave herself to Him. Read her words below and see if you don’t find within yourself a mixture of amazement, wonder, and holy perplexity.

It is so sweet to call God, 'Our Father’! . . . I cannot well see what more I shall have in Heaven than I have now; I shall see God, it is true, but, as to being with Him, I am that already even on earth.

A few days after the oblation of myself to God's Merciful Love, I was in the choir, beginning the Way of the Cross, when I felt myself suddenly wounded by a dart of fire so ardent that I thought I should die. I do not know how to explain this transport; there is no comparison to describe the intensity of that flame. It seemed as though an invisible force plunged me wholly into fire. . . . But oh! What fire! What sweetness!

I have had several transports of love, and one in particular during my Novitiate, when I remained for a whole week far removed from this world. It seemed as though a veil were thrown over all earthly things. But, I was not then consumed by a real fire. I was able to bear those transports of love without expecting to see the ties that bound me to earth give way; whilst, on the day of which I now speak, one minute -- one second -- more and my soul must have been set free. Alas! I found myself again on earth, and dryness at once returned to my heart.

In this world there is no fruitfulness without suffering -- either physical pain, secret sorrow, or trials known sometimes only to God. When good thoughts and generous resolutions have sprung up in our souls through reading the lives of the Saints, we ought not to content ourselves, as in the case of profane books, with paying a certain tribute of admiration to the genius of their authors -- we should rather consider the price which, doubtless, they have paid for that supernatural good they have produced.

During my postulancy it cost me a great deal to perform certain exterior penances, customary in our convents, but I never yielded to these repugnances; it seemed to me that the image of my Crucified Lord looked at me with beseeching Eyes, and begged these sacrifices.

Our Lord's Will fills my heart to the brim, and hence, if aught else is added, it cannot penetrate to any depth, but, like oil on the surface of limpid waters, glides easily across. If my heart were not already brimming over, and must be filled by the feelings of joy and sadness that alternate so rapidly, then indeed would it be flooded by a wave of bitter pain; but these quick-succeeding changes scarcely ruffle the surface of my soul, and in its depths there reigns a peace that nothing can disturb.

Were it not for this trial, which is impossible to understand, I think I should die of joy at the prospect of soon leaving this earth.

I desire neither death nor life. Were Our Lord to offer me my choice, I would not choose. I only will what He wills; it is what He does that I love. I do not fear the last struggle, nor any pains -- however great -- my illness may bring. God has always been my help. He has led me by the hand from my earliest childhood, and on Him I rely. My agony may reach the furthest limits, but I am convinced He will never forsake me.

I am besieged by the devil. I do not see him, but I feel him; he torments me and holds me with a grip of iron, that I may not find one crumb of comfort; he augments my woes, that I may be driven to despair . . . And I cannot pray. I can only look at Our Blessed Lady and say: 'Jesus’! How needful is that prayer we use at Compline: 'Procul recedant somnia et noctium phantasmata'! ('Free us from the phantoms of the night'). Something mysterious is happening within me. I am not suffering for myself, but for some other soul, and Satan is angry.

Oh, how I love Our Blessed Lady! Had I been a Priest, how I would have sung her praises! She is spoken of as unapproachable, whereas she should be represented as easy of imitation… She is more Mother than Queen. I have heard it said that her splendour eclipses that of all the Saints as the rising sun makes all the stars disappear. It sounds so strange. That a Mother should take away the glory of her children! I think quite the reverse. I believe that she will greatly increase the splendour of the elect . . . Our Mother Mary! Oh! How simple her life must have been!

I know that just at this moment Our Lord has such a longing for a tiny bunch of grapes -- which no one will give Him -- that He will perforce have to come and steal it . . . I do not ask anything; this would be to stray from my path of self-surrender. I only beseech Our Lady to remind her Jesus of the title of Thief, which He takes to Himself in the Gospels, so that He may not forget to come and carry me away.

It is my dearest wish ever to bend beneath the weight of God's gifts, acknowledging that all comes from Him.

I shall die soon. I do not say that it will be in a few months, but in two or three years at most; I know it because of what is taking place in my soul.

This is my secret: I never reprimand you without first invoking Our Blessed Lady, and asking her to inspire me as to what will be most for your good, and I am often astonished myself at the things I teach you. At such times I feel that I make no mistake, and that it is Jesus Who speaks by my lips.

Some notes from a concert far away have just reached my ears, and have made me think that soon I shall be listening to the wondrous melodies of Paradise. The thought, however, gave me but a moment's joy -- one hope alone makes my heart beat fast: the Love that I shall receive and the Love I shall be able to give!

I feel that my mission is soon to begin -- my mission to make others love God as I love Him . . . to each soul my little way . . . I will spend my heaven in doing good upon earth. From the very heart of the Beatific Vision, the Angels keep watch over us. No, there can be no rest for me until the end of the world. But when the Angel shall have said: 'Time is no more'! Then I shall rest, then I shall be able to rejoice, because the number of the elect will be complete.

What draws me to my Heavenly Home is the summons of my Lord, together with the hope that at length I shall love Him as my heart desires, and shall be able to make Him loved by a multitude of souls who will bless Him throughout eternity.

I trust fully that I shall not remain idle in Heaven; my desire is to continue my work for the Church and for souls. I ask this of God, and I am convinced He will hear my prayer. You see that if I quit the battlefield so soon, it is not from a selfish desire of repose. For a long time now, suffering has been my Heaven here upon earth, and I can hardly conceive how I shall become acclimatized to a land where joy is unmixed with sorrow. Jesus will certainly have to work a complete change in my soul -- else I could never support the ecstasies of Paradise.

When I suffer much, when something painful or disagreeable happens to me, instead of a melancholy look, I answer by a smile. At first I did not always succeed, but now it has become a habit which I am glad to have acquired.

O my God! How good Thou art to the little Victim of Thy Merciful Love! Now, even when Thou joinest these bodily pains to those of my soul, I cannot bring myself to say: 'The anguish of death hath encompassed me'. I rather cry out in my gratitude: 'I have gone down into the valley of the shadow of death, but I fear no evil, because Thou, O Lord, art with me'.

And Thérèse’s last words on earth as she gazed at her Crucifix were:Oh! . . . I love Him! . . . My God, I . . . love . . . Thee!